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Getting it down on paper

  • LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Norman Burger of Gilbert wrote and compiled the history of Chestnuthill Township in a book titled "Monroe County's West End: A Quarter Millennium 1763-2013." It includes information about Chestnuthill, Ross, Eldred and Polk…
    LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Norman Burger of Gilbert wrote and compiled the history of Chestnuthill Township in a book titled "Monroe County's West End: A Quarter Millennium 1763-2013." It includes information about Chestnuthill, Ross, Eldred and Polk townships because at one time, they were all a part of Chestnuthill Township. The book was written to be a part of the commemoration of Chestnuthill's 250th anniversary.
Published August 30. 2013 05:00PM

Norman Burger has seen and done a lot in the world. But when it came time to retire, for him there was no place like home.

Burger was born and raised in the Kresgeville area of Monroe County. The son of Norman and Jennie (Diehl) Burger, he is one of eight children. He graduated from Polk High School in Kresgeville in 1958 and then graduated from East Stroudsburg State College with a degree in math and physics and a minor in chemistry.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he enlisted in the United States Air Force.

He served in South East Asia on a C19 cargo and para trooper plane toward the end of the Vietnam War. He was on the last plane with the last of the GIs from DeNang. On these flights, he held three specific jobs: an IR (infrared) operator; NOS (night operation sight); navigator. He was on 140 missions in one year.

In 1966, he married a Gilbert girl, Janis Moretz, an elementary school teacher. They have two children, Norman and Shayla, and five grandchildren, another on the way.

Burger went on to earn his Master's degree in 1970 through the Air Force Institute of Technology in computer science.

From 1973-76, he was headquartered at NORAD (North America Aerospace Defense Command.) He ran the group that did computerized studies. From there he was transferred to the Strategic Air Command at Belview, Nebraska, where he worked on computerized studies for future military requirements from 1976-1981. He was then assigned to Offutt AFB, joint strategic targeting planning staff agency of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was responsible for all the nuclear planning of the United States from 1981 until he retired in 1985.

"My group was in charge of the development and maintenance of software needed to perform the nuclear planning."

Heavy stuff.

He served 22 years in the Air Force, retiring in 1985 at the rank of Lt. Colonel.

Then from 1985-2004, he worked for Aerospace, building electronic systems for the military, primarily for the Air Force. Again, he retired. He and his wife moved back to where they grew up and built a home in Gilbert.

Soon he was to find another vocation.

Burger loves visiting museums and was always interested in history. He had Raymond Andrews as a history and Latin teacher at Polk High School.

"He always made history interesting. He was a story teller. That resonated with me. I grew up listening to older folks talk about the old days. That's a good way to keep history going."

After he returned home, his mother got him to delve into her family history and then he researched his father's side, gathering lots of local history along the way.

He joined the Polk Township Historical Society and became its president.

"My goals and objectives are to try to preserve and document those that have gone on before us. If you can find it. The history in the West End has not been well documented and folks are disappearing. It's important to preserve it in some way so that the younger generation know the people who came before them. That's what drives me."

He spends anywhere between 20-60 hours a week working on the history of the West End.

"You chip away at it every day. Sometimes you spend four to six hours on something and it turns out to be nothing. Sometimes you get conflicted info. You'd like multiple sources to corroborate what you want to document. It gets you close to a reality."

In addition to being the president of Polk Township's historical society, when Chestnuthill Township expressed an interest in starting a historical society, he offered to help. He was elected as its president to help it get up and running. Now Nancy Christman serves as its president.

"I feel it's important for Chestnuthill to have a historical society. It's like the mother of the area. In the beginning, there was just Chestnuthill Township. It later was broken up into four townships - Chestnuthill, Ross, Eldred and Polk."

He began working on Chestnuthill's history because the township will be celebrating its 250th anniversary in September. He took on the task of writing and composing a book to help commemorate the event and it has just been released. The title is "Monroe County's West End: A Quarter Millennium 1763-2013." The 280-page book took him 18 months to complete. He says that 50 percent of it came from multiple sources such as the other township's history books, members of the local historical societies and documented Pennsylvania history.

"We wanted to capture our disappearing recorded history. I've seen some dramatic changes to this area in my lifetime. Many of our residents now don't know about our history," he says.

The book begins with articles written by Shelley DePaul and the late Dr. Perry Smith which start with the first people who lived in the area for thousands of years, the Lenape Native Americans (the Delaware tribe) and then first German and Dutch settlers to the area.

In 1742, a leader of the Moravian Church, Count Zinzendorf and his party of seven, led by a Lenape guide, traveled to the territory north of the Blue Mountain into Cherry Valley. From there they went westward through what is today Hamilton Square, Sciota, and Brodheadsville to the Lenape village of Wechquetank (present day Gilbert.) They visited with Lenape leader, Captain Harris, and his extended family. The next day they traveled south on the Wyoming trail, which led them to the Lenape village of Meniolagomeka by Smith Gap where Teedyuscung and his family lived.

The Moravians established a mission at Meniolagomeka in 1752. The French and Indian War (1754-1763) and pressure from the Penn's land agent, Richard Peter, forced the Lenape at Meniolagomeka to Gnadenhutten (Lehighton area.) As the local effects of the French and Indian War began to die down, the Moravians started a mission at Wechquetank in 1760. By 1763, the Lenape at Wechquetank were forced to move to Wyoming Valley villages, opening the area north of the Blue Mountain and the Lehigh River basin for expanded settlement.

In the 1762-1763 time frame, there were sufficient European settlers, mostly Germans and Dutch, to petition for the formation of townships. Within a twelve month period, three townships were formed north of the Blue Mountain within Northampton County - Hamilton, Chestnut Hill and Towamensing (in present day Carbon County, which was established in 1843.) The first known reference to Chestnut Hill Township is on September 20, 1763, when Abraham Schmidt was named constable, one of the first actions when a township was formed.

In 1817, Chestnuthill Township was split and the southern half became Ross Township. In 1846, Polk Township was formed from the western half of Ross Township. In 1851, Eldred Township was created from the western half of Ross Twp.

The book records the commerce and industry of the area, the mills (grist, brick, manufacturing, etc.), the churches, schools, fire companies, organizations and some of the area's most notable residents and notable events.

One of the nice features of the book is the Timeline of Historic Events in the back, starting with 1616 when Dutch Captain Cornelius Hendrickson was the first documented European to sail up the Delaware River to the 250th anniversary celebration on Sept. 7, 2013.

Burger thinks a lot of our history comes from the people who got to tell their side of a story.

"Often, things one person thought was important become the story that is recorded. We filter our own personal views of the world in our stories which influences the outcome. For instance, take your own personal family history. I come from a family of eight kids. When we get together and bring up something that happened years ago, we might get eight different versions of it," he says.

Burger encourages others to record history, particularly their own family's. He's hoping he has succeeded in planting the seed of his love of history in his family. But just to be on the safe side, he has all his stories down on paper.

And now he's seen to it that Chestnuthill Township's are too.

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